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NEWS | Nov. 17, 2023

Pacific Partnership 2024-1; U.S. and Marshallese Medical Team Eradicate Tuberculosis in Outer Islands

By Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Woitzel, Commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific

U.S. Navy and Marshallese medical personnel delivered collaborative efforts to eliminate tuberculosis in Aur Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), during Pacific Partnership 2024-1 Nov. 7-11, 2023.

The U.S. and Marshallese providers united in support of the Marshall Islands Ministry of Health and Human Services tuberculosis and eradication campaign.

“Together, with our Marshallese partners, we are testing all residents of Aur for tuberculosis, and also starting treatment for those who tested positive,” said Lt. Hoel Rupert David, officer in charge of the medical effort.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands has one of the highest rates of tuberculosis in in the world.

“Tuberculosis is an airborne disease caused by bacteria,” said David. “It can easily pass on from person to person, and if it is not treated, it can be fatal.”

Having the support from PP24-1’s medical team reinforced local medical professionals’ hopes to rid Marshallese citizens of the disease.

“It is important because our tuberculosis (TB) strategy and goal is to eliminate TB, and for us to take control by 2035 by doing this mass screening,” said Samantha Anontog, a Marshallese tuberculosis nurse supervisor. “Especially in the outer islands, TB service is not free. It’s not available in the outer islands, so we are bringing it to them.”

To reach the outer islands of Aur Atoll, 13 U.S. Sailors and a contingent of Marshallese professionals left the island of Majuro aboard RMIS Liwatoon-Mour, the Republic of the Marshall Islands’ hospital ship, commencing their hours-long journey. Upon arrival, the team spent three days delivering medical care to the islands’ residents, combating tuberculosis and providing optical and dental care.

This is the first time in Pacific Partnership history that U.S. service members have embarked on a foreign vessel to provide medical support.

“It gives me great joy and honor to be part of this unique and challenging mission,” said David. “We have never done this type of mission before, and it’s challenging because we have to travel five to six hours in a Marshall Islands-owned medical ship to be able to come here. Coming here was not easy, and it’s only 13 of us, handpicked, to be a part of this mission delivering expeditionary healthcare to the people in this underserved community.”

The U.S. and Marshallese integration facilitated learning opportunities for the medical partners, helping them to hone their professional skills and foster stronger connections.

“Working with Marshallese partners is amazing,” said David. “One of the things that they taught me is reading x-rays. In the United States, you rely totally on the radiologist. Here, we do not have a radiologist to read x-rays. It’s you. You need to be there, and by doing that multiple times, I learned more about reading x-rays.”

Medical care is highly limited for the residents of Aur Atoll, and the bigger island of Majuro, which is home to the country’s largest hospital, is not easily accessible.

“Our mission is not done yet,” said David. “In the Marshall Islands there are a lot more atolls that need the same services that we provided for Aur, and for the future Pacific Partnership, if given the opportunity to do this again, I will do it in a heartbeat.”

Now in its 19th iteration, Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Pacific.